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She lifted a No. 2 pencil from a chipped white coffee cup and drew a parolee release form toward her elbow. On the wall behind her head hung a framed diploma from USC. She'd received her bachelor degree in psychology. Other than that diploma and the chipped coffee cup, her office was stripped of any evidence of a life. Considering the quality of her clientele, I didn't wonder why. It would take just one convicted murderer to comment nice family to pull every photograph off the desk.

"Do you have a job lined up?"
"I thought I'd try to find work as a photographer."

I watched her write photographer, no steady employment in a box marked Means of Support.

"What about your place of residence? Where do you plan to live?"
"With my husband."

She began to write it but stopped mid-word and set the pencil down.

"What husband? I didn't see any mention of a husband in your file."
"That's because I don't have one yet."
"Are you overly optimistic or have you actually met somebody?"

She thought she was being funny.

"We have hotel reservations tonight in Las Vegas."
"What's the rush?"
"Anything wrong with me wanting to get married?"

The muscle above her jaw jumped. The workout she gave it daily built and defined it like a triceps.

"There's little I can do to prevent it, let me put it that way. He have a criminal record, your fiancé?"
"Not that I know of."
"How did you meet him?"
"Through my cellmate."

She flipped open my file again and rifled through the pages. "Rose Selavy, that cellmate?"

"They're cousins."
"Your ex-cellmate Rose is a hooker and drug addict."
"Was," I said. "There's not so much opportunity in prison."
"What does he do, this guy you want to marry?"
"He's a photographer." I laid out the information without comment, knowing that was the beauty of the arrangement. We were in the same business. That was how Rose thought of getting us together in the first place. Her cousin was English. He needed a green card. I needed money. She'd never met her cousin but they used the same lawyer, Harry Bendel. I never questioned the illegality of marrying him. Bendel had made the arrangements. I didn't even know what my husband-to-be looked like.

My parole officer picked up the pencil again and tapped it gum-side down, each tap premeditated like the squeeze of a trigger. "Forgive me for being blunt, but why does he want to marry you?"

"You don't think I'm attractive?"
"Look in the yellow pages under escort services. A hundred places will sell you attractive for a lot less than a wedding ring."

"He knows my work. Five years ago he saw photographs of mine in an art gallery and fell in love. He thinks I have talent. He wants to help me. And I hope to hell he wants to jump my bones."

She thought she could judge whether or not I lied by my eyes. Law enforcement officials like to observe the eyes of suspects for traces of truth or deception. My eyes had a naturally honest shine. I fooled everybody, including myself. I'd lived a lie until my first crime at age 23. I'd always been a good liar, even when I thought I was telling the truth.

My parole officer reached into her top desk drawer and slipped out a form stamped with the state seal of California. "I hope you're not being clever. No matter how clever you are you'll screw up and I'll know it. Criminals are screw ups by nature. Sooner or later you all end up behind bars." She filled out the form with the dates and locations and signed it. "This is your travel permit. You need it to cross the state line. Check in with the Las Vegas Police Department when you arrive. They like to know when felons come to town."

I said, "Yes ma'am, I will," knowing I wouldn't. I didn't expect any trouble. Despite my time in prison, I never thought of myself as a criminal. Maybe that was because I never really regretted the acts that imprisoned me.

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